United States v. Kebodeaux

CONSTITUTIONAL LAW — Military Regulation — Necessary and Proper

New Jersey Law Journal


United States v. Kebodeaux, No. 12-418; U.S. Supreme Court; opinion by Breyer, J.; concurrences by Roberts, C.J., and Alito, J.; dissents by Scalia and Thomas, JJ.; decided June 24, 2013. On certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Respondent Kebodeaux was convicted by a special court-martial of a federal sex offense. After serving his sentence and receiving a bad-conduct discharge from the Air Force, he moved to Texas, where he registered with state authorities as a sex offender. Congress subsequently enacted the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA), which requires federal sex offenders to register in the states where they live, study and work, 42 U.S.C. § 16913(a), and which applies to offenders who, when SORNA became law, had already completed their sentences, 28 CFR § 72.3. When Kebodeaux moved within Texas and failed to update his registration, the federal government prosecuted him under SORNA, and the district court convicted him. The Fifth Circuit reversed, noting that, at the time of SORNA's enactment, Kebodeaux had served his sentence and was no longer in any special relationship with the federal government. Believing that Kebodeaux was not required to register under the pre-SORNA Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act, the court found that he had been "unconditionally" freed. That being so, the court held, the federal government lacked the power under Article I's Necessary and Proper Clause to regulate his intrastate movements.

Held: SORNA's registration requirements as applied to Kebodeaux fall within the scope of Congress' authority under the Necessary and Proper Clause. Pp. 3-12.

(a) Contrary to the Fifth Circuit's critical assumption that Kebodeaux's release was unconditional, a full reading of the relevant statutes and regulations makes clear that at the time of his offense and conviction he was subject to the Wetterling Act, which imposed on him registration requirements very similar to SORNA's. See, e.g., 42 U.S.C. §§ 14072(i)(3)-(4). The fact that these federal-law requirements in part involved compliance with state-law requirements made them no less requirements of federal law. See generally United States v. Sharpnack, 355 U.S. 286, 293-94. Pp. 3-6.

(b) Congress promulgated the Wetterling Act under authority granted by the Military Regulation Clause, Art. I, § 8, cl. 14, and the Necessary and Proper Clause. The same power that authorized Congress to promulgate the Uniform Code of Military Justice and punish Kebodeaux's crime also authorized Congress to make the civil registration requirement at issue here a consequence of his conviction. And its decision to impose a civil registration requirement that would apply on the release of an offender like Kebodeaux is eminently reasonable. See Smith v. Doe, 538 U.S. 84, 102-03. It was also entirely reasonable for Congress to have assigned a special role to the federal government in ensuring compliance with federal sex offender registration requirements. See Carr v. United States, 560 U.S. 438. Thus, Congress did not apply SORNA to an individual who had, prior to its enactment, been "unconditionally released," but rather to an individual already subject to federal registration requirements enacted pursuant to the Military Regulation and Necessary and Proper Clauses. SORNA somewhat modified the applicable registration requirements to which Kebodeaux was already subject, in order to make more uniform what had remained "a patchwork of federal and 50 individual state registration requirements," Reynolds v. United States, 565 U.S. —. No one here claims that these changes are unreasonable or that Congress could not reasonably have found them "necessary and proper" means for furthering its pre-existing registration ends. Pp. 6-12.

687 F.3d 232, reversed and remanded.

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